Wooden Tram Replica

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The Woodworking Guru makes a wooden model of a single deck electric tram from the early 1900s.

300 × 600 × 2 sheets of 3mm birch plywood
500 × 100 × 8mm-thick × 1 piece hardwood
Offcuts of hardwood: Small sheet of veneer – mahogany colour

This article describes how to make a representative model of a single deck electric tram. A single deck is easier to model in wood because double-decker trams involve quite a lot of metal work on the top deck. The tram shown would have carried about 25 passengers and been seen on the streets of Wolverhampton in 1902. Before this date there were horse drawn trams and by 1928, the trams had been replaced by buses so the period of the electric tram in Wolverhampton was very short. This particular tram had a Lorain stud contact system where the power was picked up from studs under the rails and no overhead gantry was required, and this is another advantage when it comes to making a model solely in wood.

The body has a central saloon with two wide windows on either side and two saloon bulkheads with small windows and a sliding door at each end. Two more bulkheads are positioned outside of the saloon at each end behind the driver’s platform. Wooden seats run each side of the saloon and in the open area between the bulkheads. A clerestory roof is fitted to give extra ventilation. The driver could operate from either end and stood behind a slightly curved ‘dash plate’.

I have made my tram in birch plywood and a variety of hardwoods and left the wood in its natural state, but if you wish to paint the tram the early Wolverhampton livery appears to have been racing green and cream. Destination boards are located at the front and back and long advertisement boards go either side of the clerestory windows, but they do detract from the roof detail and you may choose to omit them.

Note: when writing instructions for a model it is not possible to be too precise because adjustments need to be made as you go along. Sometimes one needs to trim a bit here or sand off a bit there to achieve the desired result. It is wise to make dry runs and check critically as you proceed, and only glue up when you are confident all is well!

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Fig. 1: Tram saloon and bulkheads – only good quality birch plywood is suitable to make this model and it is well worth the effort of sanding both sides of the sheet with an orbital sander first to give a really smooth surface to work with. Refer to Fig.1 and make paper patterns for the saloon sides, the saloon bulkheads and the outer bulkheads. Sandwich two sheets of plywood together, paste on the paper patterns and cut out the six pieces.

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1. Form a rebate along the inside edges of the saloon bulkheads so that the pieces fit together neatly, 3mm wide × 1.5mm deep. If you do not have a router, then butt joints will be fine.

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2. Sand all the cut edges thoroughly. It is most annoying to find a whisker trapped in a joint because it is so difficult to remove! I tested the Sand-Flee and I am most impressed with the result it gives; the sander has a diameter of 50mm and I chose 120 grit. The photo shows the shank mounted directly in a Kirjes sanding machine.

I have rigged up an extraction pipe to take away the fine dust and grit. Cut two pieces of hardwood for the lower side panels, 35mm wide × 180 long × 4mm-thick. Plane and shape the wood so that it gently curves down towards the base. Cut a groove halfway down on the outside of the panel and glue in a strip of contrasting wood to make a rubbing strake. Glue the panels under the saloon windows. To avoid seeing the end-grain you can line the inside edges of the windows with strips of veneer.

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3. Check that all fits well and then glue and cramp up the saloon. I use Woodfast quick-drying PVA wood glue applied with a small artist’s paintbrush.

4. Cut out the rectangular base 90mm wide × 390mm long in plywood and glue a strip of 8 × 8mm hardwood along the underside edge on each of the four sides. Shape the ends of the base on a disc sander to give a gentle radius.

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5. Form the front and back ‘dash’ for the driver from ply and strip wood curved to match the radius of the base.

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6. Make up long seats for each side of the saloon and shorter seats for each side of the outer bulkheads from strip wood and butt-joint them together. A simple machine vice is a useful tool to use for cramping up small parts. Put two small blocks under each seat so that they can be glued to the floor at a later stage. The top back of each saloon seat is rebated to take the glazing. As the seats are visible, it is well worth taking the trouble to detail them with contrasting slats of veneer.

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7. Do a dry run and position the saloon, the bulkheads and the dashes on the base with the shorter seats either side of the outer bulkheads as shown. The photo shows one end laid out and the far end will be exactly the same.

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8. The seat slats have now been added. Passengers were not allowed to use these seats when the driver was operating at that end of the tram.

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9. Shape the hardwood roof piece with a small plane and a sander. Note that it curves downwards on each side and at the front and back. Mark out a rectangle in the centre 330mm long × 50mm wide and cut out. Cut the centre plywood roof piece to match the inside dimensions of the saloon, glue it to the underside and check that it locates correctly in the saloon but do not glue it in at this stage.

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10. Cut out the four pieces in plywood which form the clerestory: two pieces 330mm long × 28mm and two pieces 50mm long × 28mm. Sandwich the long sides together and cut out the 10 long narrow windows on the scrollsaw. You may notice that I am wearing Optivisors; these are very useful for fine detail work when one needs to see clearly where to cut.

The Excalibur scrollsaw has a home-made ply table clamped to it with a very small entry point to ease the risk of small pieces being pulled down through the throat plate. I used a No.5 PGT Olson blade throughout this project to ensure a smooth, accurate cut. Glue each side into the rectangle in the roof and trim if necessary. Take the piece cut out from the hardwood roof and increase its curvature before gluing it on top of the plywood roof.

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11. Add beams to support the roof between the bulkheads. Note that all the floors now have contrasting slats in veneer added.

12. Do a dry run to make sure the completed roof fits well but do not glue on at this stage.

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13. The side frames of the trucks are the most difficult parts to make and in reality are complicated, so I have simplified them as shown in the drawing. Sandwich together two pieces of plywood and cut out the frames. Drill 6mm axle holes while the wood is still sandwiched. Make up the trucks with hardwood spacers and trim where necessary so that the whole frame fits snugly between the underside of the base.

14. The four flanged wheels can be turned or made up from two pieces of ply cut on the scrollsaw. The wheels are positioned on the inside of the trucks. Cut two lengths of 6mm diameter metal rod for the axles, slide on the wheels and secure with a dab of Araldite; making sure the wheels rotate. Glue on four simulated springs and four axle end caps.

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Fig. 2: Parts of the truck.

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15. A view of the completed underside with safety slats fore and aft and four steps to enable the passengers to climb aboard.

Varnish or paint any areas before assembly taking care to avoid surfaces that will be taking glue. Complete any detailing for the underside and glue the body of the tram to the base. Cut the acetate glazing to fit inside the windows and hold in place with narrow strips of double-sided tape. When the interior is finished, glaze the clerestory windows before gluing on the roof. Additional detail, such as the front and back lamps, the cab controls, handrails and the destination boards can then be added using scraps of plywood, hardwood and brass wire.

Advertising boards can be added, which will give extra colour but they will obscure the clerestory windows.

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You should now have a fine model which you have enjoyed making that can be displayed where it will be much admired by all!

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